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Army Chief dismisses criticism, insists on need for public cooperation to overcome corona epidemic

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… latest cluster exceeds 1800; its eruption still a mystery

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva strongly defended the armed forces role in the overall government effort to bring the fresh corona eruption under control.

Those who complained of the way the war-winning military responded to the growing crisis conveniently ignored the enormity of the task and the challenges faced by them.

Acknowledging there could be some shortcomings in the wake of what the media called the ‘Brandix eruption,’ Lt. Gen. Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), assured that the military and the police were doing everything possible to bring the situation under control. The Army Chief said so in response to The Island queries regarding public criticism directed at the military for being insensitive to those compelled to undergo quarantine at state-run facilities.

The wartime GoC of the celebrated 58 Division said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tasked the military with the daunting task early this year when corona epidemic erupted. “In spite of difficulties, the armed forces and the police assisted the health administration to bring the first corona wave under control. Now, we are battling obviously a far bigger second eruption,” the head of the national covid task force said.

The Army Chief said that those who found fault with government efforts expressed views on the social media. Lt. Gen. Silva recalled how various interested parties criticized the war effort until the very end.

“They questioned our strength and capacity to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Similarly, we are being criticized by a few but overall the vast majority of people have faith in the military,” Lt. Gen. Silva said.

A section of the civil society, too, is critical of the way, particularly garment workers were treated.

Responding to another query, the CDS said that in spite of the Brandix eruption, the government apparatus managed to sustain the covid treatment project. Since the first detection made by the Gampaha Hospital in the new eruption of the highly contagious disease , the health authorities had recorded nearly 1,800 cases, mostly Brandix workers attached to its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility.

Lt. Gen. Silva said that most of the affected had been in the Gampaha district at the time of the onset of the second wave and the situation could have been much better tackled if the health administration, the military and police received the anticipated cooperation. Unfortunately, those vulnerable and stricken by corona habitually tried to deny having had contacts with other people, hesitated to divulge where they visited et al, thereby had made things difficult for the health staff and the armed forces.

Lt. Gen. Silva said that the military health staff had been fully utilized to run facilities where approximately 10,000 were accommodated so far in military run quarantine centres.

Lt. Gen. Silva explained efforts made by the Navy to thwart illegal boat movements across the Palk Straits as part of the overall measures in place to meet the covid-19 threat.

Asked whether the government intended to expand the curfew now imposed in 14 police areas in Gampaha Division (Yakkala, Pallewela, Weliweriya, Weeragula, Minuwangoda, Veyangoda, Pugoda, Nittambuwa, Mirigama, Malwathuhiripitiya, Dompe, Kiridiwela, Ganemulla and Gampaha), two police areas in Kelaniya Division (Kandana and Ja-ela) and three in Negombo Division (Divulapitiya, Seeduwa and Negombo), the Army Chief said that a lot would depend on cooperation extended by the public. “Let me tell you, there are isolated cases in many districts outside Gampaha, Kelaniya and Negombo police divisions. If people really cooperated with the government, the situation can be gradually brought under control,” the Army Commander said. But, if the situation deteriorated for want of public cooperation, the police would have no other option but to expand curfew, he said.

Commenting on successful battle against the first wave and the ongoing second, Lt. Gen. Silva said that the second was a quite a challenge as it threatened a major revenue source. Pointing out that the declaration of curfew in the Katunayake police area on Thursday (15) at 5 am, Sri Lanka’s top military officer explained determined efforts made to sustain operations at export-oriented factories.

Lt. Gen. Silva acknowledged that the ongoing operation was far bigger than the one carried out early this year.

Contrary to earlier reports and indications the 39-year-old Brandix worker tested positive on Oct 2 at the Gampaha hospital was certainly not the first to be stricken with the deadly virus at the facility. Authorities were yet to establish the cause of the Brandix eruption, the Army Chief said.

“Inquiries are continuing,” Lt. Gen. Silva said, adding that there was no better apparatus than the armed forces and police to work with health administration to overcome the danger to the entire country.

 

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Police want to catch those who fled WP to escape curfew

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By Pradeep Prasanna Samarakoon

Police had launched a special operation to apprehend persons who left the Western Province hours before the imposition of the weekend quarantine curfew in the province, Western Province Senior DIG Deshabandu Thennakoon said.

The SDIG said that police had received information that large numbers had left the province. “Many people have gone on trips and some to their native places to avoid the curfew. We have found that some had booked holiday resorts, hotels and guest houses outside the province soon after the announcement that the curfew would come into force from midnight Thursday.” The SDIG said that the special operation would focus on guest houses and hotels and other such places outside the Western Province. “We appealed to the people not to leave the Western Province. A special operation was launched to identify if people have travelled out of Colombo, circumventing Police road blocks, and to obtain information on such persons.”

The SDIG said that action would be taken against people who had travelled out of Colombo in violation of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. 

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Parliament sittings limited to one day next week

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Party leaders, who met on Thursday, at the Parliament Complex, decided to limit next week’s sittings of Parliament to one day due to the COVID -19 pandemic, the Pparliament Communication Division said.

Accordingly, Parliament will convene on Nov 03 from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon only and on that day, two regulations to the Medical Ordinance submitted by the Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi will be taken up for debate. Also, no time will be allotted for the Questions for Oral Answers.

The meeting, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, decided to meet on Nov 12 and pass the Appropriation Bill presented by the Minister of Finance for the service expenditure for the financial year 2020 following the second and third reading.

It has been decided not to allow anyone other than Members of Parliament, invited officers, Security Personnel and the Parliament staff to enter the Parliament complex on the sitting days. The media will also not be allowed to enter the Parliament premises to cover parliamentary sittings. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, Prof. G.L Peiris, Dullas Alahapperuma, Mahinda Amaraweera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prasanna Ranatunga, Ali Sabri and MPs Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rauff Hakeem, Dilan Perera, as well as the Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake and the Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff Neil Iddawela were present at the meeting on Thursday.

 

 

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State Minister Cabraal dispels fears about Sri Lanka’s debt service capacity

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State Minister of Money and Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal has said nobody should harbour fears of Sri Lanka’s ability to service its debt. Fears being expressed in some quartes are unfounded he has said, issuing a media statement.

Following is a statement issued by the State Minister of Money & Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal on 30th October 2020 “With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all countries including Sri Lanka, observed a contraction in economic activity, reduction in foreign exchange earnings, decrease in revenue collection, and increase in health and welfare related expenditure. However, the prompt and measured policy support provided by the Government and the Central Bank enabled Sri Lanka to contain the unfavourable effects of Covid-19 to a great extent, and return the economy to near-normalcy by mid-May 2020. In fact, most economic activities have displayed a notable revival from May onwards, and this recovery is on-going. The recent detection of a new Covid cluster is now being decisively addressed by the Government, and this wave is also expected to be short-lived. Accordingly, the expansion of the fiscal deficit and the increase in debt levels in 2020, should not be generalised as a prolonged debt distress, but rather as a “one-off” deviation from the clear fiscal consolidation path that has been well articulated in the new Government’s policy framework.

“The election of a new President in mid November 2019 and the formation of a single-party Government with a sizable majority in August 2020, has enable the new Government to address the uncertainties in the political and policy spheres observed during the period 2015 to 2019. Consequently, Sri Lanka has been able to address public health concerns swiftly, as well as take difficult economic decisions with greater confidence. For example, when the Government was of the view that it was necessary to conserve forex, given the likelihood of low foreign exchange earnings due to the pandemic, and the need to prioritize foreign debt service obligations, the Sri Lankan authorities imposed restrictions on non-essential imports from March 2020. Such decisive and bold action, along with the reduction in global petroleum prices, resulted in a substantial saving of nearly US$ 3 billion in terms of expenditure on merchandise imports in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period of the previous year. This saving, along with the better-than-expected outcomes in terms of merchandise exports, services exports other than tourism, and workers’ remittances, is now projected to compress the external current account deficit to below 1.5% of GDP in 2020.

“It would also be noted that capital flows and official reserves were also affected during the early months of the global outbreak of Covid-19. However, growing business confidence due to decisive action by the Government and the Central Bank has enabled the country to stabilize the exchange rate with only a marginal depreciation of around 1.5% so far this year, even while the Central Bank was able to purchase/absorb US$ 300 million from the domestic foreign exchange market during the year. As a result, official reserves remain close to US$ 6 billion, after settling foreign debt service repayments of around US$ 4 billion thus far during the year, including the repayment of the matured International Sovereign Bond of US$ 1 billion in October 2020. In the meantime, it would be further noted that the Sri Lankan authorities are presently negotiating a loan of USD 700 million from the China Development Bank which is expected to be at an interest rate and terms of repayment that are significantly more favourable than the USD 1 billion Sovereign Bond that was just re-paid. In addition, an attractive, exchange rate risk-free, Forex SWAP facility has been introduced for any foreign investor who invests in Sri Lankan government securities, which is expected to boost foreign exchange inflows particularly from the Middle-East, in the period ahead.

 

“In terms of growth performance, Sri Lanka is once again set to embark on a growth path, following the setback in the first half of 2020 caused by the pandemic. The formulation of the new Government Cabinet and State Ministerial structure, with clear performance indicators has been geared towards improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the economy. These new governance structures are bound to enhance agriculture and agro-based and mineral-based industries, increase export opportunities, as well as facilitate large projects within the Port City, Hambantota Port, and dedicated industrial zones. The expected revitalization of state owned enterprises, together with the private sector-led growth projects would also revert the Sri Lankan economy to the high growth path that was observed prior to 2015 whereby annual growth rates of over 6.5% were regularly recorded.

“In the meantime, Sri Lanka’s entire local debt stock of about Rs. 7.7 trillion (USD 42 billion) as at end July 2020 is being rolled-over and re-priced now at interest rates which are almost half of what was paid in 2019, while the Rupee remains stable. It may also be noted that a new trend has been established where greater reliance is being placed on domestic financing, and that strategy has already improved the “domestic: foreign” ratio of the debt from 51:49 at end 2019 to 56:44 now, which trend the authorities are keen to improve further in the period ahead. It is therefore clear that the Government’s commitment and support towards better debt management, both directly and indirectly, has already started to take effect.

“Sri Lanka is justifiably proud of its immaculate debt service record, without a single default. It would also be noted that Sri Lanka has experienced similar challenging circumstances previously, with high levels of debt. For instance, during 2001-2004, the country’s debt to GDP ratio was well over 100%, and by end 2005, it was at 91%. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka was able to gradually reduce the debt to GDP ratio to just 72% by end 2014 through decisive and innovative action.”

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